Walden Grove High School students interested in law enforcement have an even better perspective of what the job entails thanks to a $25,000 grant from the NRA.
The grant purchased a MILO Firearms Training System, the same system many police officers train on. Walden Grove is now the only high school in the state that gives students the ability to participate in more than 750 simulated, high-stress scenarios from the safety of their own classroom.
Armed with a simulated weapon the weight of a Glock 17, in the blink of an eye students must decide when to shoot or not shoot and, if they decide to take a shot, how to successfully eliminate the threat.
Walden Grove has offered the Law and Public Safety course for three years. Doug Hansen, an adjunct professor at Pima Community College and retired FBI agent, teaches the course.
Much of what the students learn throughout the three-year program is what cadets learn in police academies. They become familiar with Arizona statutes, how to de-escalate situations, conduct legal searches, traffic stops and field interviews. They also learn police codes, the phonetic alphabet and crime scene procedures.
On Wednesdays, they hear from guest speakers such as forensic analysts, police officers, victim advocates and attorneys.
Hansen has former students who are now law enforcement officers at the University of Arizona, Brigham Young University-Idaho and in the military. He also has one working for U.S. Customs and another in the process of obtaining a job with the FBI.
On a recent Monday morning, students shot at stationary targets on a widescreen before Hansen selected several scenarios on his computer. Students found themselves stepping out of their classroom and into a school bus, a home or a school. In other scenarios, they were in a Middle Eastern firefight and on a remote country road and a residential street.
The students had to search for and address active shooters, confront a distraught mom, an angry motorcyclist and two suspicious men in a vehicle. The men ended up dead after they opened fire on students; students missed their marks several times and made a few other tactical errors.
Depending upon students' actions, Hansen can change the scenarios. When one student failed to calm the mom, suddenly he was dealing with a mom with a gun at her child's head. The motorcyclist threw his helmet at one student who wasn't authoritative enough and was killed. Another time, he calmed down and sat back down on his motorcycle when another student took command of the situation.
After each scenario, Hansen played each one back while offering comments and advice. The computer also allowed the students to see exactly where their shots went.
In the distraught mom scenario, she ended up with a gun in her hands before the students even raised theirs. She also managed to fire several shots without being fired upon. In the motorcyclist scenario, the students came to realize the helmet throwing didn't justify the use of deadly force; they should have used their Taser.
Among the comments:
"Why is your gun at your side?"
"Give him commands. You need to use your voice. Show me your hands. Drop the gun. Move over to the side."
"If she shoots him in the shoulder is it over? Can he fire back?"
"Do you help the victims? Remember, as much as you want to help them, you have to remember the goal: Eliminate the threat."
Again and again, Hansen reminded the students that most of the time an officer's uniform, badge and voice are enough to handle most situations.
"Your gun should be the last thing you should feel you need to go to," Hansen said.
He also reminded the students to slow down and make each shot count.
Caleb Arias, a 16-year-old junior, said he's no longer sure about becoming a police officer. The distraught mom scenario was so realistic it shook him up.
"I'm thinking that taking someone's life would be really hard," he said.
Senior Tyler Lair, 17, said the MILO System is far more realistic than first-person shooter video games.
"The MILO System isn't just a game. It's more of a process of knowing real-life situations without having to be in them. It's a good way to train people that don't even really know a whole lot about guns. There's not a whole lot of kids in here that have ever handled firearms," Lair said.
Sophomore Quinton Hardy, 15, said using the MILO System has reinforced his desire to become an officer.
"It makes me feel like once I do go to the academy, I'll be more prepared," he said.
The class has made Charlize Cheely, a 15-year-old sophomore, realize she wants to go into forensics rather than taking to the streets as a police officer.
"I think he's a really cool teacher," Myela Blanco said of Hansen. "What makes me more comfortable and more confident in law enforcement is that he's been in it so long and I feel like he's been in every single situation you can possibly think of, and with that knowledge he has, he can bring it to us and give us knowledge about it so we can make our choices."
Lair said the Law and Public Safety class is great with or without the MILO System. He's learned a lot about people's Constitutional rights, what officers can and can't do and the difference between the adult and juvenile criminal justice systems.
Sophomore Isabel Jones, 15, agreed.
"I have more perspective on police officers now. People are always asking why did they do that and know I know they had good reasons," she said.